If It’s Wet, Sticky & Not Yours…Ask

November 20, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

Sticky FeetI don’t know how it works for boys, but if you’re an overly-ambitious female, you’re taught from an early age that it’s a lot easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. It’s a small morsel shared with a knowing twinkle that gives young girls a license to be horrible. And I won’t lie – when it was shared with me, I ran with it. It made sense. If I actually ASKED to be allowed to do something, then I gave the other party a chance to say no. If I just did it and they got mad, well, that’s why God gave me dimples. That line of thought, though, does not work if you’re a business saying “sorry” to a customer. Businesses are generally not as cute (or forgivable) as young girls.

Larry Chase wrote a post on this last month that really stuck with me. He talks all about how being cavalier in business isn’t worth the potential consequences. Because you can’t just ask for forgiveness and expect the slate to be wiped clean. It’s a lesson that I wish more businesses and brands understood.

  • Signing me up to your newsletter because I handed you a business card at a conference – cavalier.
  • Releasing features with a “we know better” attitude and then ignoring the outcry you knew would come – cavalier.
  • Cold-calling me without at all targeting your sales pitch or knowing who I am – cavalier.
  • Expecting trust instead of earning trust – cavalier.

And customers won’t put up with it. It doesn’t matter if you say, “you’re sorry”. Their impression of you is that you’re a jerk. That you tried to take what wasn’t yours. And that you’re more concerned with yourself than the privacy or wants and needs of your users. That’s not a brand people are going to do business with. [You really should change that retweet feature, Twitter.]

If you’re still living by the “do now, apologize later” approach to business, then you’ve let this whole social media thing go right over your head. Your customers probably want to engage and talk to share with you…but you still have to ask their permission before making that assumption. They’d probably like your newsletter, but sign them up without their consent and you’ll see that hell hath no fury like a scorned socially-savvy consumer.

unruly kidYour customers are far more connected than they used to be. They’re more vocal. They know that you have people out there listening. So when you violate them by being cavalier about their needs, they get loud and tell their entire network. You haven’t just stolen the privacy of one person; you’ve stolen it from their 1,500 followers, as well. You don’t just have to apologize to one person; you have to apologize to the whole lot. Being seen apologizing 1,500 times  hurts your brand. It makes it undeniably weaker. Make it a habit and you won’t recover.

Stop acting like an unruly kindergartener. If it’s sticky, wet and not yours, don’t touch it. And if you want to touch it, ask for permission first. Today’s world is like direct marketing on steroids. Yeah, we’re all social and informal and friendly…but you still need to ask for permission before entering a room. You still need to build that relationship and prove to your customers that you’re worth their time. Spamming with a newsletter I never asked for so you can get out your marketing agenda will burn more bridges than it will build. You should just go sit in your time out chair now. Because no one wants to deal with you.

Why is it no longer easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask permission? Because social media is permission marketing. It’s the price of admission. Always having to say “you’re sorry” does nothing but destroy your brand and label you a bully in the eyes of your consumer.  Before you throw a rock through someone’s window, ask them if they wouldn’t mind opening up the door.

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